est em (b. 1981)
Detail: Chapter 3, panels 5-6 of 12

Japan, 2011
Digital sketch (genga), ink on paper
Copyright: est em / Publisher: Shodensha Co., Ltd.
Loan from the artist

In her manga Equus (2011), est em (b. 1981) presents a world populated by humans and centaurs in order to discuss the issue of sexual orientation. Est em’s centaurs are metaphors for gay men: predisposed to a lifestyle that inspires fear, admiration, or desire among others.

Like Takemiya Jin and Tsubaki Anna (b. 1970), whose artwork is displayed nearby, est em designs her manga with computer graphic software, unlike those artists who draw their work by hand and later scan or photograph the images for the sake of publication. With such use of modern technology, distinction between the genres of photography and illustration art has become increasingly blurred.

In the digital sketches for Equus displayed here (read from upper right to lower left), a heterosexual man rides his horse through the forest, musing to himself, ‘They used to live here long ago…’ Frightened by a noise, his horse bolts, and as he recovers, the fallen rider realizes that he has inadvertently intruded upon two centaurs sharing a moment of intimacy. At first embarrassed and confused, the man gradually finds himself drawn to them, and before long, he has joined them in their feverish lovemaking. Returning to the scene, the man’s horse sees the ménage a trois and, feeling terribly excluded, thinks plaintively, ‘But I came back to pick him up…’

Similar to Takemiya Jin, est em often crops a page into several elongated panels in order to quicken the pace of the narrative or to develop a sense of dramatic tension. The artist is also known for her stark use of tonal contrast, which is reminiscent of work by Art Nouveau artists such as the British illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898).